“For the most part up until now we’ve had a separate relationship with our devices” says Tom Emrich, co-founder of the Wearable App Review, a website dedicated to wearable technology.
Mr. Emrich is also the founder of “We Are Wearables,” a Meetup group in Toronto which attracts more than 300 attendees monthly with a waiting list. While Emrich says he doesn’t think people will rush to have manipulations such as Mr. Harbisson’s any time soon, he does agree that in the past five years technology has grown a lot more intimate: “Bracelets, clothing, headbands, glasses – these are all very personal objects. They touch our skin or augment our vision.”
For Mr. Harbisson, wearable computers are a fundamental precursor to cyborgism. “We’re comfortable using technology, we’re becoming increasingly comfortable wearing technology, and I think we’ll start to see more people willing to become technology” he says.
With the mission of helping people become technology in mind, Mr. Harbisson started the Cyborg Foundation in 2010, an international nonprofit organization headquartered in Barcelona. They defend cyborg rights and work with students and universities to help people become cyborgs.
Current projects include the Fingerborg, a prosthetic finger with miniature camera, and the Speedborg, a radar that allows you to perceive the speed of movement around you through vibrations.
Asked if he fears we’ll lose our humanity by mechanizing our bodies, Mr. Harbisson says it’s actually quite the opposite: “The more we become technology the closer we’ll be with nature and other animal species.” He tells me he feels closer to dolphins, who also hear through vibrations, and insects. “Having an antenna is something natural to animals and insects, not to machines.”
In addition to promoting cyborgism as a lifestyle, the foundation also encourages it as an art movement. “Artists can now create their own senses and express themselves through new senses” says Mr. Harbisson.
In his own artwork using his newfound sense of colour perception, Mr. Harbisson translates famous songs and speeches into paintings. He has also created sound portraits of the likes of Prince Charles, Nicole Kidman, Woody Allen, and Leonardo DiCaprio by pointing the eyeborg at them and recording the sound of their face.
When reading human flesh with the eyeborg, Mr. Harbisson says that all human skin (white, brown or black) sounds like various shades of orange. The observation underscores the undeniable humanity that’s present throughout his work and art – a humanity that can only be seen through the lens of technology.
Neil Harbisson will be a keynote speaker at Toronto’s Mesh Conference, which runs May 27 - 28. For more information, visit http://meshconference.com/.